DISCLAIMER – It turns out the +/- figures below taken from the basketball-reference game logs here are actually team margin of victory per game and not on-court / off-court +/- stats. Enjoy:
I’ve compiled season-by-season raw plus / minus stats for Michael Jordan from 1987-1998 (less 1995 when he barely played). Why, you ask? Because I’ve always wanted to know how his +/- numbers stacked up. Observe:
|Season||Age||PER||TS%||MOV not +/-|
The plus minus figures didn’t go back before 1986, so I couldn’t get Mike’s rookie year. I left off year 2 because he missed most of the season with a broken foot. I also left off 1995 because he missed most of the year playing baseball, and I left his Wizards years off because they never happened. They never happened!
We’re left with the 10 years that we really gauge Jordan’s career on. What I find interesting is that the numbers match up with how I think about the sport. PER is highest when the team isn’t as good and the +/- numbers reflect that. As the team got better and Jordan focused less on his own production and more on sharing responsibilities and doing the little things to help the Bulls function in the triangle, the PER dropped, and the +/- spiked. In fact the +/- backs up Bill Simmons’ claim that Jordan peaked in 1992. The boxscore metrics see 1992 as the worst of MJ’s post-foot injury and pre-baseball seasons. The +/- says it was Jordan’s best pre-baseball season. In fact , I’m sure someone smarter than me could find a way to combine box score metrics with +/- so that the end result is a number that factors team success and individual production together to help eliminate some of the player-rating inaccuracies inherent in each.
Obviously raw +/- is of limited use, but it does demonstrate Mike’s contributions to his team in a broad way. It shows how dominant the Bulls were with Jordan on the floor with no other context factored. It doesn’t consider quality of teammates, quality of opponents, five-man units, or any of the other variables that cause so much noise. On the other hand these numbers actually do relate to winning rather than simply to filling out a box score.
For a modern comparison, LeBron James‘s raw plus / minus actually peaked in 2009 with the Cavs at 10.9. Last year when the “is LeBron better than anyone else has ever dreamed of trying to be in their wildest fantasies” talk began, LeBron’s raw +/- was 9.5. So, taken with a grain of salt, Jordan’s peak years of 9.1, 11, 12.2, and 10.8 are in line with what we see from the best player today, which is what we’d hope to see if we thought there was any value in the raw plus / minus numbers, which I’m not sure of yet. EDIT: Per the commenter below this comparison is faulty. The Cavs and Heat MOV was actually even lower, but that’s not an indictment of LeBron in any way. It just shows how great Chicago was.
I think I’m going to have to run the numbers for a few more players to see if they give consistent results. I’ll keep y’all posted. That’s a blog joke. Sorry.